We are standing at an exciting crossroads of opportunities for heritage brands. The new generation of consumers are nostalgic, much more so than generations before them, and have a sentimental affection for the past – somewhere where they can find belonging and comfort in an increasingly chaotic world. Beset by the impact of the pandemic and increasing levels of loneliness and anxiety, Gen Z are searching for nostalgic comforts that bring together their love for the past with their hopes and dreams for a better world. Studies into the values and behaviors of the younger generation of consumers show that Gen Z hold a much stronger sense of responsibility, are much more racially and ethnically diverse, and are better educated than any generation before them. They are most likely to consume products and services that celebrate diverse cultures and align with their values and aspirations for the future.

This generation is enchanted by the past, while at the same time looking to drive change for issues including social equality, mental health and wellbeing, and the environment. This presents an opportunity for heritage brands to strategically evolve and bring themselves into the current conversation. It’s important to remember the tension between the younger generation’s longing for the past and the desire to shape the future. Heritage brands need to adapt in order to appeal to hearts while talking to heads.

The method of how heritage brands can do this effectively can be found in intercultural branding. Cultural differences don’t purely exist between different countries; they can be apparent inside one market among different times and periods. The culture of a market changes over time, and how brands can stay competitive and relevant during a changing market over time is one of the aspects we study in intercultural design and branding.

Before we go further, let’s take a look at intercultural design and branding and what it means. Intercultural design and branding focuses on adaptation, while keeping the original essence of a brand intact. It is a discipline that evolves existing brands and products, keeping them up-to-date and relevant for the new culture of their markets. Intercultural design and branding places priorities on the originality of a brand and its cultural context and can be used to drive the evolution of a brand’s story, identity, and wider application, internally and externally.

Intercultural design and branding fully respects all cultures, maximizing the possibility to retain originality in the new market environment in a way that is the most appealing to customers. It is a particularly useful discipline for a brand that has a long history and is now seeking new opportunities for new development, and it is a practice regularly adopted by brands going global.

The importance of keeping heritage brands alive and thriving

Culture is humanity manifest. In our cities, in our communities, and in our families, we find unity in our common cultural values, and we find inspiration in our cultural diversity.

Many heritage brands carry human intellectual property that is invaluable to our society, while others are held in the fond memories of generations, continually invoking their original intention and bringing a warm, nostalgic glow of when times seemed easier and simpler.

Whether it be techniques and processes, lifestyle, or customs and traditions, the precious elements of heritage brands can be retained whilst being evolved for today’s market and consumers.

Heritage brands also provide valuable opportunities for future generations to develop themselves, by learning from the treasured past and blending these learnings with their intrinsic knowledge of today’s marketplace and their digital nativity.

The value and power of brand heritage cannot be overestimated. Naturally rich in culture and stories, heritage brands have no need to create a compelling brand story as new brands do. The market is seeking authenticity, original and genuine, heartfelt stories that resonate with people and strike a chord of nostalgia.

Preserving the uniqueness of a brand while evolving it for a new market and making it stand out are the key components of good intercultural design and branding.

Applying intercultural branding to history’s most iconic brands

Polaroid has been on an evolutionary journey over recent years, to secure its relevance for the future. Polaroid reignites the romance of an instant photo and blends this with new and attractive technology. The historic brand has stayed relevant in the digital age, but for different reasons than in the past. Historically, people were excited by Polaroid because they could see a picture developing instantly in front of their eyes. Today, it stands as an alternative to our disposable, ‘always-on’ culture. Polaroid’s new branding is clearly identifiable as the brand people have known and loved over the past 9 decades, whilst clearly ready for an exciting future.

Many beloved heritage brands are turning 360 degrees, back to their original branding. Intercultural branding places the originality of a brand, and its cultural context, as the main priority when developing a brand. A great example of intercultural branding at work is Burger King’s new logo. Burger King’s first rebrand in 20 years has included the creation of a logo very closely resembling its iconic logo of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Over the decades, the Burger King logo has cemented its place in culture through Gremlins, Back to the Future, and, more recently, Stranger Things. The new logo pays homage to the brand’s heritage, and the part it has played in modern culture, perfectly.

Being based in Scotland, I couldn’t not mention IRN-BRU’s 2021 relaunch of its 1901 recipe. The “old and unimproved”, unashamedly sugar-laden drink is resplendent in its traditional glass bottle – a cherished childhood memory of Scots of all ages, and now back on supermarket shelves for all to enjoy permanently. The revival brought an outpouring of love for the Scottish brand and its legendary drink across digital media for weeks. The recipe for IRN-BRU’s 1901 edition was discovered in a handwritten book, buried deep in the IRN-BRU archives for over 100 years. Now that’s history – full circle.

Heritage brands reborn

Heritage brands can thrive in today’s consumer marketplace without losing their core essence. In fact, it’s critical for these brands to stay faithful to their originality, stay authentic, and avoid trends. Heritage brands need to identify the key pillars that keep them standing, while reinventing and changing to adapt to new and evolving cultures around them.

Reinvention can take the form of reimagining the brand proposition and products and services according to modern customer needs and desires, evolving products and services to bring the culture of a brand to a new level, more closely aligned to modern customer life. An example of this would be a traditional heritage coffee brand, keeping the values of its core brand pillars, whilst evolving its offering to launch an espresso pod, to adapt to fit in with modern customer lifestyles at home.

Whilst digital transformation is important, what sets heritage brands apart is often the physical touch and experience it can offer. This shouldn’t be neglected.

Of course, like all businesses, heritage brands need to have a commercial mindset to survive, but they can offer intrinsic value beyond commercialization and fulfill the needs of today’s market while being meaningful and offering a treasured piece of irreplaceable history and culture.